Rebecca Miller / The New Professionals Orchestra, London

Aaron Jay Kernis: Goblin Market

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Goblin Market, a melodrama -- a spoken narration with musical accompaniment -- is a superb example of Aaron Jay Kernis' gift for almost recklessly profligate inventiveness. Christina Rossetti's mysterious, very long 1859 poem "Goblin Market" (it's over 550 lines) is notable for its vividly pictorial, sensual (and sometimes unambiguously sexual) imagery. The story of two little Victorian girls, sisters, and their nearly fatal misadventures with a band of goblins, comes across as very strange indeed to modern sensibilities, but it opened the floodgates of Kernis' imagination. Although the work is endlessly intriguing it leaves an ambiguous impression on first hearing because there is simply so much going on. The music dazzles with its brilliant orchestration and torrents of fascinating, often gorgeous, musical ideas and it sounds like it could stand on its own as a concert work without the narration. The poetry is so rich and its language is just distant enough that listening to it closely tends to draw attention away from the music. It's rare, though, to encounter any artwork that delivers too much of a good thing, so while it would be possible to be put off by its profusion of musical and literary stimuli, this is a piece that demands many repeated listenings before it can be grasped and appreciated. It is certainly a work whose richness and depth amply reward the attention it requires. The 20-minute Invisible Mosaic II doesn't have a program, but it has the same kind of propulsive kaleidoscope of colorful invention as Goblin Market, with more moments of respite that unfold at a more leisurely pace. Both scores reveal Kernis as (and this is intended in the most positive way) a born entertainer, someone who understands how a well-told story -- in these cases a musical story -- can quicken the audience's pulse and leave it with a satisfyingly emotional sense of catharsis.

The London-based large chamber ensemble (or small chamber orchestra) the New Professionals lives up to its name. It plays with remarkable virtuosity and sizzle under Rebecca Miller, the group's founder. Actor Mary King makes a strong, compelling impression as the narrator. Signum's sound is exemplary: clean, nicely detailed, and very present.

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